Patient Education

To help you understand and navigate through your orthopedic health decisions, we have created a patient education section. Please select from one of the categories below to learn more about your condition or procedure.
Neck Sprain

A neck sprain occurs when the ligaments in the neck are stretched or torn. Ligaments are tough, fibrous tissues that connect bones and stabilize the joints. Neck sprains are often the result of sudden movements or trauma that force the neck beyond its normal range of motion.

Common Symptoms

  • Pain and Stiffness: Pain in the neck that may spread to the shoulders and upper back, and stiffness that limits the range of motion.
  • Headache: Pain at the base of the skull that can radiate to the forehead.
  • Muscle Spasms: Involuntary contractions of the neck muscles.
  • Tenderness: Soreness when touching or pressing on the neck.
  • Difficulty Moving the Neck: Pain and stiffness making it difficult to turn the head.
  • Numbness or Tingling: In severe cases, symptoms may extend to the arms or hands.

Cause & Anatomy

  • Trauma: Whiplash from car accidents, sports injuries, or falls.
  • Sudden Movements: Rapid or awkward movements that strain the neck.
  • Overuse: Repetitive motions or poor posture over time.
  • Sleeping Position: Sleeping in an awkward position that strains the neck.
  • Heavy Lifting: Improper lifting techniques that put stress on the neck.

Risk Factors

  • Sports Participation: Contact sports or activities with a high risk of falls.
  • Accidents: Car crashes, especially rear-end collisions.
  • Age: Degenerative changes in the neck structures with aging.
  • Poor Posture: Slouching or extended periods of poor posture.


  • Review of symptoms, recent activities, and medical history.
  • Physical examination to assess pain, range of motion, and areas of tenderness.
  • X-rays: To rule out fractures or other serious injuries.
  • MRI or CT Scan: If there is suspicion of severe ligament damage or other complications.

Non-Surgical Treatment

Rest and Activity Modification:

  • Avoid activities that exacerbate symptoms.
  • Gradual return to normal activities as pain allows.

Ice and Heat Therapy:

  • Apply ice packs to the affected area for the first 48 hours to reduce swelling.
  • Follow with heat packs to relax muscles and improve blood flow.


  • Pain Relievers: NSAIDs (e.g., ibuprofen) or acetaminophen for pain and inflammation.
  • Muscle Relaxants: To reduce muscle spasms.

Physical Therapy:

  • Exercises to improve strength, flexibility, and range of motion.
  • Techniques to improve posture and ergonomics.

Neck Brace:

  • Short-term use of a soft cervical collar to support the neck and limit movement.

Recovery & Rehabilitation

Immediate Care

  • Rest and Ice: Initial rest and application of ice to reduce swelling and pain.
  • Pain Management: Medications to manage pain and inflammation.
  • Gradual Activity: Slowly resume normal activities as symptoms improve.

Long-Term Rehabilitation

  • Physical Therapy: Structured program to restore full range of motion and strength.
  • Home Exercises: Continue exercises at home to maintain flexibility and strength.
  • Posture Correction: Techniques to maintain proper posture during daily activities.
  • Ergonomic Adjustments: Modifications to workstations or sleeping arrangements to prevent recurrence.

Risks & Complications

  • Chronic Pain: Persistent pain if not properly treated.
  • Reduced Mobility: Limited neck movement due to stiffness or pain.
  • Recurring Injuries: Higher risk of future sprains if the neck is re-injured.
  • Nerve Damage: In severe cases, damage to nerves causing prolonged numbness or weakness.

Benefits of Treatment

  • Pain Relief: Significant reduction in pain and discomfort.
  • Improved Mobility: Enhanced ability to perform daily activities.
  • Increased Functionality: Improved overall neck function and quality of life.
  • Prevention of Further Injury: Proper treatment and rehabilitation can prevent future sprains.


How long does it take to recover from a neck sprain?
Recovery time varies depending on the severity of the sprain. Mild sprains may heal within a few days to a couple of weeks, while more severe sprains can take several weeks to months.

Can I exercise with a neck sprain?
It’s important to avoid activities that exacerbate symptoms initially. Gentle stretching and strengthening exercises can be beneficial once acute pain subsides. Consult with a healthcare professional or physical therapist for an appropriate exercise regimen.

When should I see a doctor for a neck sprain?
Seek medical attention if you experience severe pain, persistent symptoms, numbness or tingling in the arms or hands, or if the injury is due to significant trauma such as a car accident.

Can a neck sprain cause headaches?
Yes, neck sprains can cause tension headaches, particularly at the base of the skull. Proper treatment of the neck injury can help alleviate headache symptoms.

Is it safe to use a neck brace for a neck sprain?
A neck brace can provide support and limit movement during the initial phase of recovery. However, prolonged use can lead to muscle weakness, so it should be used as directed by a healthcare professional.

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